interstellar comet

Earlier this month, astronomers observed a tiny, mysterious blip of light moving through the sky by the PanSTARRS1 telescope in Hawaii. It was moving both very fast – 26km per second – and completely different from the “local” space rocks in our solar system.

Scientists immediately scrambled to figure out what exactly the object, now named A/2017 U1, was – and they’ve determined that it could very well be our solar system’s very first interstellar comet.

So, if this comet is interstellar, where exactly did it come from? Astronomers believe it came from the direction of the star Vega, in the constellation Lyra. As far as outer space goes, Vega is a “relatively close” 25 light years away. This means that at the speed the comet was traveling, it would have taken about 1.7 million years to cross the interstellar divide.

NASA expressed their excitement at the discovery of A/2017 U1 in a press release. “We have been waiting for this day for decades,” Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, said. “It’s long been theorized that such objects exist — asteroids or comets moving around between the stars and occasionally passing through our solar system — but this is the first such detection. So far, everything indicates this is likely an interstellar object, but more data would help to confirm it.”

Whatever is it, the object passed by Earth at a distance of about 15 million miles – or about 60 times the distance to the moon – on October 14. As for where it’s going, scientists believe it’s headed toward the constellation Pegasus and out of our solar system for good.

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Source: CNN

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